In Meistersinger, Wagner still turns to Greek models for his dramaturgy, but recasts them in the form of an epic city comedy, centred around the medieval guilds of mastersingers. The opera tells the engaging story of how, against all odds, young Walther von Stolzing succeeds in defeating the scheming Beckmesser in the song contest and winning the hand of the fair Eva.
The music is Wagner's sunniest, pinned throughout to gleaming chorale effects in a blaze of major keys.This glorious opera now comes to London in a first revival of Graham Vick's colourful and traditional staging for the Royal Opera. Last time round, Vick's Meistersinger was a major critical success and the production returns with many of its original cast. Gosta Winbergh, who recently gave a majestic account of Lohengrin at the Garden, sings Walther, soprano Nancy Gustafson is Eva and ever- reliable bass Gwynne Howell her father, Pogner. Thomas Allen repeats his charismatic portrayal of the villain Beckmesser. Which leaves one of the longest roles in the entire operatic repertoire - that of the worldly cobbler Hans Sachs, the opera's lynchpin. It is taken by John Tomlinson, perhaps today's greatest Wagnerian bass-baritone and awarded a CBE in this year's New Honours List.
At the Royal Opera House, under the expert baton of another major Wagnerian - Bernard Haitink - Tomlinson and his fellow cast perform Meistersinger four times. And that may well not be enough to accommodate all the Wagnerites who will want to be there.
Royal Opera House, London WC2 (0171-304 4000) tonight, then 18, 21 and 24 MarReuse content